Nepal | July 16, 2020

Dedicated to Shakti

Nine days of Durga Puja to celebrate feminine power

Sunita Lohani
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Durga templeKathmandu

Yaa Devi Sarvabhutesu Shakti Rupena Samsthitaa Namas Tasyai Namas Tasyai NamasTasyai Namo Namah

To that Devi who in all beings is unceasing in the form of Power, salutations to her, salutations to her, salutations to her, salutations again and again

These are from Chandi (Devi Mahatmyam), a religious book that has recitations for Goddess Durga’s worship that is usually recited during Dashain.

Devotees visit different temples of goddesses — Bhadrakali, Shova Bhagawati, Manamaijudevi (Pachali), Guheshwari,  Bangalamukhi, Chamunda (Shankhmul) and more in Capital during Dashain. And nine forms of Goddess Durga — Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayini, Kaalratri, Mahagauri and Siddhidaatri — are worshipped for the nine days during this festival. The nine days of Durga Puja is  called Navaratri.

From Ghatasthapana to Dashami (10 days), people worship all nine forms of Durga with the faith that the goddess is present to give people her blessings.

Different Dashains

Most of the festivals in Nepal relate to nature, be it Dashain or Janai Purnima or Ahsar Pandhra (15th of Nepali month Ashar).

According to Culture Expert Dr Jagman Gurung, “Earlier, when people used to worship nature, Dashain was celebrated four times in a year according to the seasons — Sharadiya Dashain (Autumnal), Hemantik (Winter), Basantik (Spring) and Grismiya (Rainy). Hemantik and Grismiya Dashain became extinct. Sharadiya Dashain became a huge Dashain known today as Bada Dashain. Basantik Dashain is celebrated as Chaite Dashain these days. However, tantra saadhak still plant jamara in remaining two seasons — Winter and Rainy — and celebrate Hemantik and
Grismiya Dashain.”

Dr Gurung added, “During the time of Sharadiya Dashain, farmers have already sown barley, paddy and millet. The water level in rivers is also low so farmers have the leisure time to meet relatives and friends. It is a major reason for celebrating Dashain in this season, and thus this Dashain became popular.”

Being healthy with Jamara

On the first day of Navaratri  — Ghatasthapana, devotees sow jamara (barely seeds). It is believed that jamara is the favourite plant of Goddess Durga, so devotees offer jamara to make her happy and get her blessings.

But Dashain celebration not only means enjoying cultural significance of the festival, it also means an occasion to celebrate good health. And jamara helps one attain good health — jamara is quite useful for high blood pressure and patients of diabetes.

As per Dr Gurung, “If the jamara (that is in yellow colour) is consumed regularly, it will help control blood pressure and sugar. That is why people tend to sow jamara on other days apart from Dashain — to be healthy.” The fibre in barley helps control sugar and high blood pressure.

Scientific aspect

Dr Gurung also associates nine days of Durga Puja scientifically. “Navaratri has a strong scientific value. We perform power-worship (Shakti Upasana) on these nine days. During this time we meditate to — not to see, hear, speak bad things.  And nine pores of our body — nose, ears, mouth, eyes, anus and urinary tract (mal dwar) — also symbolically represent these nine forms of Goddess Durga. Thus, the power worship can be connected to restoring positive power in these nine pores of our body during Navaratri, by doing, speaking, hearing or seeing only good things”.

Mythological version

Dashain celebrates the power of woman. According to Hindu mythology, in Satya Yuga (Era of Truth) there was a huge war between gods and demons. The gods could not beat the demons led by Mahishasur. Then the Goddess Durga with 18 hands was created, through the light of all gods. She killed Mahishasur and freed gods and humans from the injustice of the demons. Dashain is the celebration of this victory of good over evil, while also celebrating female power, by worshipping Goddess Durga.

But in the Tarai region of Nepal, devotees perform Ram-Leela during Dashain. In this part of the nation, as well as in India, it is believed that Lord Ram killed Ravana and delivered justice to the people and restored law and order. And Dashain is celebrated to enjoy Lord Ram’s victory.

Animal sacrifice

During Navaratri, Panch Bali (sacrifice of five animals) is done — buffalo, sheep, goat, duck and hen are sacrificed during this time. But Dashain has often been criticised for the animal sacrifice.

According to Dr Gurung, before humans started farming, they survived by killing animals and eating their meat. Later that system changed, and people started offering meat of animals first to god, and consuming it as god’s prasad.

But, in the recent times, people who do not wish to sacrifice animals also offer coconut to the goddesses instead of animals. One reason, coconut was not used in the earlier time could be because coconuts did not grow here then, they had to be brought from India, as per Dr Gurung.

Celebration style

In the Tarai, people celebrate Navaratri in a different way  from the Hilly region.  Laxmi Upadhyayay, 28, from Nepalgunj shared, “We worship Goddess Durga at home. Our local club puts up a tent in our community where clay statues of Ganesh, Durga and Shiva are kept for worshipping. We worship, do aarati and chant mantras of Goddess Durga. Exciting bhajans are played which I love most. For nine days we spend time there and bid farewell to the Goddess Durga in river on the tenth day.”

People of Kathmandu Valley usually celebrate Dashain in the close circle of family and relatives. They perform puja at home, visit temples of different goddesses during the nine days and get tika and blessings from the elders from the tenth day to Purnima.

But since a few years, Kathmandu has adopted a new trend to celebrate Dashain. Nowadays, we find huge tents in different parts of the City. These tents are set up like temples, with statues of nine forms of Durga, Hanuman, Shiva, Laxmi and Ganesh, and decorated with colourful lights and plastic flowers. Devotees worship and perform aarati at these tents where bhajans are played in Nepali and Hindi languages.

Priest Nau Ratna Sharma, one of the hosts of such a tent in Bishal Bazar, said, “We worship Goddess Durga here for nine days and bid her farewell on the tenth, and give jamara and prasad to all businessmen of the Complex and other devotees.”

“Every day, in the morning, we perform Abhisekh of the Goddess Durga — a ritual of bathing the goddess with five different elements that comprise milk, curd, honey, sugar and ghee. After that we offer aarati to Laxmi, Durga, Shiva, Ganesha and Hanuman. We repeat the same ritual in the evening daily. The Complex customers come here and worship the gods and goddesses and take prasad and click photos,” Sharma added.

Bishal Bazar Byapar Sangh has been organising such an event for the last three years. “In this modern day people do not have time to do anything. So, such a place is important to save our culture,” Sharma claimed.

Dashain, Jamara

Worshipping Astamatrika

KATHMANDU: Visiting places of pilgrimage where Goddess Durga resides in her different incarnations is the most important feature of Dashain. The pilgrimage, also known as Navaratri Mela, is the festival of nine nights dedicated to the glorification of Shakti, the feminine form of the Divine where early morning pilgrims visit shrines and worship the different forms of Goddess Durga. Due to the diverse cultures and castes in Nepal, celebrating the same Mela could be different, but the core remains the same.

The Newar community of Kathmandu has their own way of celebrating Navaratri Mela — they visit different shrines of Astamatrika, which means in one shrine devotees can find eight different incarnations of Goddess Durga. They are Bhramayani, Rudrayani, Barahi, Indrayani, Kumari, Baishnavi, Chamunda and Maha Laxmi. The pilgrimage begins from Gatasthapana to Nawami where this year it started on October 1 that continues till October 10.

Anyone who is interested in doing the pilgrimage, be it an individual or any organisation, has to do it three times in one’s lifetime. But it can be extended as per one’s convenience in multiples of three. It is believed that those who do the pilgrimage or organise it get special benefits at the end — one is granted a wish, like wish for child, to clear court cases, et cetera, and that those who worship with a pure heart and devotion also get the benefits.

The organisers have the responsibility to wake up the locals by going around chowks with their traditional musical band early in the morning — 12:00 midnight, 2:00 am and 3:00 am according to the organisers’ schedule to visit different 10 pilgrimage sites.

These are Shanker at Patan, Nirmal at Shova Bhagawati, Punya Thirtha at Gokarna, Ichhumati at Tripureshwor, Panchanari at Pachali Bairabha, Manohar at Tokha, Deva at Pashupati Aryaghat, Chintamani at Pachali, Lakhu at Kankeshowri and Shanti at Guheshwori during Navaratri Mela. 

A version of this article appears in print on October 08, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.

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